Mikveh Israel: “Synagogue of the Revolution”

— by Mark I. Wolfson

Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel, “The Hope of Israel,” is the oldest Jewish congregation in the city of Philadelphia, and the second oldest congregation in the United States. It dates its roots back to 1740 when Nathan Levy, upon the death of his child, applied for a grant of land at 9th and Spruce Streets from Thomas Penn, Proprietor of Pennsylvania, to consecrate as a Jewish burial ground.

More after the jump.
At the time of its founding, the only other Jewish congregation in the United States was Kahal Kadosh Shearith Israel in New York City. That congregation was formed by Dutch Sephardic Jews who were descendants of Spanish and Portuguese refugees of the Inquisition. A number of the early founding members of Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia were from prominent Sephardic families in New York, Charleston, Richmond and Savannah, and though another large number were Ashkenazi Jews, there was broad agreement to adopt the Spanish and Portuguese customs and rite that prevailed in the country at the time. The service and customs remain largely unchanged up to the present time.

Mikveh Israel is called “Synagogue of the Revolution” because the early founding members of the congregation were very involved in the activities that led up to the war, with many of them signing the Non-Importation Act of 1765. Many of the members were very active in the war effort itself, either directly fighting on the American side, supplying the army with food, ammunition, equipment, and clothing, or contributing funds that made the war itself possible and ensured an American victory. After the war, members of Mikveh Israel remained in regular contact with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, and the other leaders who wrote the constitution and shaped the country in its earliest days.

Still Remembered: Reverend Abraham Lopes Cardozo of Mikveh Israel

— by Mark I. Wolfson

We remember Hazzan Abraham Lopes Cardozo. Rev. Cardozo was Hazzan of Shearith Israel From 1946 until his retirement in 1984. He was the embodiment of the Western Sephardic liturgical tradition that was brought to North America from Amsterdam via Recife, Montreal, and the Caribbean, among other places. He was the spiritual and musical teacher of the present Rabbi of Mikveh Israel, R. Albert Gabbai, bringing some of his rich influence to Philadelphia. Rabbi Gabbai would often invite Rev. Cardozo to come to Philadelphia for High Holidays and other occasions after his retirement.

Rev. Cardozo was born on September 27, 1914. His father, Joseph Lopes Cardozo, was the leader of the boys choir at the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. He was also a violinist, and along with Cardozo and his two brothers, the foursome formed a band that played at various gatherings and communal holiday celebrations. They all could play keyboards and also string, reed, and brass instruments. Of course, Bram, as Abraham Cardozo was known, grew up completely immersed in music of all kinds and had a natural talent. He even played piano as a toddler. As he grew, he could play any piece he heard by ear.

More after the jump.
At 18, “Bram” Cardozo earned his degree as a Hebrew teacher from the Ets Haim Seminary in Amsterdam. A few years later in 1938, he answered an advertisement for a Hazzan who was needed for a congregation in Surinam, Zedek Ve-Shalom. The ad was placed by his future father-in-law, Judah Robles, who was Parnas of the synagogue at the time. After much deliberation over different candidates, Bram Cardozo was chosen because of his credentials and also because the salary, paid for by the Dutch government, and living conditions were appropriate for a single young man. He arrived in Paramaribo, Suriname on September 9, 1939. As it turned out, this appointment saved his life. All of the rest of his family in Holland perished in the Holocaust. Throughout his life, he observed Tisha B’Ab as the Nahalah (anniversary) for all of his relatives that were murdered, as this is the national Jewish day of mourning.

In 1945, Rev. Cardozo took a six-month leave of absence from his job as Hazzan in Suriname, and headed to New York. The Suriname community was declining in the wake of the war, and he wanted to expand his horizons and look for other opportunities. New York City provided the perfect vibrant Jewish community for him to spread his wings. Of course, Rev. Cardozo found his way to the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue, Shearith Israel. There, as a visiting Hazzan of a sister synagogue, he was invited to lead services. This led to an offer to join the congregational staff as an Assistant Hazzan, which he accepted. After returning to Suriname to give notice to a very disappointed Mr. Robles, be began his long tenure at Shearith Israel on January 1, 1946.

Immediately on starting as Hazzan, Rev. Cardozo reunited with the daughter of his former Parnas in Suriname, Irma Miriam Robles, who was working in New York and attending Shearith Israel regularly. They shared many of the same friends and grew close over the next few years. In December of 1950 they became engaged, and had a beautiful wedding on March 11, 1951, officiated by Rev. Dr. David de Sola Pool of Shearith Israel, assistant minister Rev. Dr. Louis Gerstein, and Rev. David Jessurun Cardozo, the Rabbi of sister congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia. Of course, the first piece of furniture they acquired for their new home was a piano — a Baldwin Acrosonic upright. The Cardozos had two daughters, Debby and Judy, born in 1952 and 1955.

Rev. Cardozo was devoted to and strictly upheld the Spanish and Portuguese minhag, though in his private life he also appreciated other traditions. In many ways he was a living bridge between the Old World, represented by the Amsterdam Sephardi community, which was made up of descendants of refugees from the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, and the New World, in the first congregation in America. As the Amsterdam community was being decimated by the Nazis, Cardozo escaped just in time and continued the traditions in the New World. Rabbi Marc Angel, long time Rabbi of Shearith Israel speaking at his funeral in 2006, said that Rev. Cardozo was an ember that survived the ashes of the Holocaust.

Rev. Cardozo’s passion in life was Hazzanut, and there was nothing he enjoyed more than leading the congregation in prayer using the tunes he knew and loved so well. Sadly though, as he was required to strictly maintain the Shearith Israel minhag, he was prevented from introducing some of the other Spanish and Portuguese melodies from the mother synagogue in his native Amsterdam that he so eagerly wanted to keep alive. Though he was not given the title of Minister of the congregation until late in life, he performed weddings, funerals, and gave eloquent eulogies.

After he retired, he wrote two books, each with an accompanying CD of music. The first was Sephardic Songs of Praise, followed a couple of years later by Selected Sephardic Chants. Many of his friends collaborated to present a petition to Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, nominating Rev. Cardozo for the title of “Knight in the Order of Orange Nassau” for his service during World War II, his preserving the traditions and minhag as practiced for hundreds of years in Amsterdam, and his loyal and proud representation of the Dutch Jewish Heritage. He was officially knighted in the year 2000.

In March 2005, Rev. Cardozo fell and broke his hip. Unfortunately, he never fully recovered and passed away on February 21, 2006 (23 Shebat 5766) at the age of 92. Hundreds of people came to the synagogue to attend his funeral and pay their respects to this great and humble man and leader of the community for 60 years. Eulogies were given by dozens of leaders, rabbis, colleagues, close friends and family. Rabbi Angel led the hakafot (circuits) around the coffin in a very moving ceremony, after which the coffin was draped with his talet (prayer shawl).

I just want to share one very small personal anecdote: I used to lead the Friday night Shabbat service at Mikveh Israel. One time, when Rev. Cardozo was visiting for Shabbat at the invitation of Rabbi Gabbai, he led the Friday night service faster than I have ever heard it done. It was so fast, I could hardly follow along. After the service, as I was wishing him a Shabbat Shalom, I remarked on the speed with which he read the service. He replied, with a twinkle in his eye, “they don’t call me the Flying Dutchman for nothing!”.

Mark I. Wolfson is the creator of Mikveh Israel History. The goal of the blog is to provide articles on the people and events of Mikveh Israel over the past few hundred years. Mikveh Israel and its members helped shape the Jewish community in Philadelphia and the rest of the country, and established the educational and charitable institutions that set the example for social responsibility in all communities.

Introducing Sephardic Sweets

— by Janet Amateau

Cooked sweets — purees, compotes, marmalades, pastes, hard candies and whole preserves — are an important component of the Sephardic culinary tradition and social custom. Whole fresh and dried fruits, citrus peel, flower petals, seeds, nuts and even vegetables are transformed into confections of various textures, forms and colors, to be served, with tea or coffee, when folks come a callin’.  

My own grandparents and great grandparents favored sweets made from quince, almonds, apricots, citrus peel, rose petals, apples, dates, figs and sesame. Depending upon where in the Mediterranean you might be you’d also enjoy sweets made from lemons, pears, sour cherries, grapes, plums, tomatoes, pumpkin, eggplant — you name it. The Moroccan recipe in these pages for Berenjenitas en Dulce — candied baby eggplants — is a fine example. The list is endless.

The full recipe after the jump.
What makes these confections Sephardic per say is not only how they are prepared but how and when they were incorporated into Sephardic life. As with other Sephardic foods, many sweets, too, carry some specific symbolism or association with key events — holidays, weddings, circumcisions, baby namings, bar mitzvas, etc. They may represent sweetness, purity or, in the unique case of harosi (haroset), even the mortar of the Egyptian pyramids (at the religious school I attended, I was convinced those Ashkenazi ladies who made the haroset they served up really meant for us kids to eat mortar). But never mind that. When it comes from a Sephardic kitchen, harosi is rendered a luscious spoon sweet. Candied almonds may be served at weddings, masapan adds “sweetness” to all celebrations, And so forth. Others are perhaps more quotidian, though no less special, saved for social visits both planned and impromptu. Or for your own household, of course.

Everyone’s got their personal favorites and specialties, which keeps things interesting and provides ample opportunity for showing off your confectionary skills. Around our house my mother collected tangerine peels, as did her mother, to make dulse de mandarina — tangerine marmalade — studded with pine nuts. One of my great grandmother’s specialties was dulse de kondja’ — rose petal jam made only from deep red roses, picked only in the morning when the dew-covered petals are at their most fragrant. Most fitting for a woman from The Island of Roses. Grandpa was mad about bembriyo, quince paste, which he cooked up in batches each fall during that fragrant fruit’s very short season, as he’d seen his mother do before him. Old habits die hard. Lucky for me, quince paste is a household staple in Spain (where it’s called membrillo). It’s out of this world with semi-soft cheese.

Berenjenitas en Dulce – Moroccan-Sephardic Candied Baby Eggplants

Notes:

  1. The recipe takes anywhere from 6 to 9 hours to prepare; if you’re a fan of slow foods, this one’s for you.
  2. This recipe is by Liticia Benatar (born in Casablanca, living today in Caracas) and comes from Dulce lo Vivas by Ana Bensadon.
  3. The translation is mine, as are comments in parenthesis.

Berenjenitas en Dulce

Ingredients

  • 25 baby eggplants – as small as possible
  • 1.5 kilos (7-1/2 cups) sugar
  • 500 grams (1-1/2 cups) honey
  • crushed fresh ginger (according to taste)
  • 8 cloves
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • a few grains of allspice

Directions

  1. Poke the raw eggplants all over with a fork.
  2. Put them in a (large, heavy, enamel) casserole, cover with cold water and add the sugar.
  3. Boil for 10 minutes, lower the flame and simmer for 2 or 3 hours over a low flame.
  4. Remove from the heat.
  5. Make a (little sack) with a fine cloth or gauze and put in all the spices. Add the spices and half the honey to the casserole and return it to the flame.
  6. When the pot begins to boil, lower the flame and simmer over a low flame for 2 or 3 hours.
  7. Add the rest of the honey. The eggplants have to cook for another 2 or 3 hours more, until they turn very dark.

Janet Amateau is the creator of Sephardic Food, which explores Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) food and the culture that it comes from.

A Sampling of Philadelphia’s Colonial Foods

Sally Lunn Bread – A large sponge cake-like bread, more like a bread than a cake that is either yeast or baking powder based. .

— Ronit Treatman 

Philadelphia, the city of almonds, pomegranates, olive oil, chick peas, lentils, dates, grapes, and fava beans? Thanks to the Jews who first settled the North American colonies, Philadelphia was blessed with the introduction of these Mediterranean foods. It is fun to recreate colonial recipes today in order to experience the flavors and aromas of those times and connect with an often overlooked period of the Philadelphia Jewish experience.

More after the jump.

The first Jews arrived in this area before the land was deeded to William Penn in 1682. These were Portuguese Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. The first place they settled was Recife, Brazil, while it was a Dutch colony. When the Portuguese conquered Brazil from the Dutch, bringing the Inquisition with them, the Jews moved to North America. First they went to Dutch New Amsterdam (New York). Subsequently Jews migrated from New Amsterdam and settled in Philadelphia to trade furs with the Native Americans. When King George deeded the land to William Penn, the latter embarked on his “holy experiment,” creating a colony where anyone who lived peacefully was welcome. The Jews stayed.

Colonial American food was a combination of English, French, and West Indian food. Local ingredients were incorporated into the diet. Benjamin Franklin encouraged people to eat corn, turkey, and other Native American foods in order to cease their dependence on British exports. Confectionery was very well developed in Philadelphia. It had the best ice cream in America!

Pepper Pot Soup. .

One of the most accessible and popular dishes of the time was pepper pot soup from the Caribbean. This was a one-pot meal made with inexpensive meat, seasonal vegetables, and hot peppers. George Washington served it to his troops after crossing the Delaware River to attack Trenton in 1776. For those who wish to try this at home, Mrs. Esther Levy gives a recipe for pepper pot soup in her Jewish Cookery Book, the first Jewish cookbook published in the United States, in Philadelphia in 1871. Below is an adaptation for the modern kitchen.

Visiting Historic Philadelphia is fun and interesting. Recreating the meals of the colonists is a hands-on way to connect with the past. As they say in Ladino, buen provecho–with good enjoyment!

Pepper Pot Soup

From Mrs. Esther Levy’s Jewish Cookery Book and Historic Cold Spring Villagerecipe collection

Meat

  • 3 quarts water
  • 2 onions diced
  • 2 green peppers diced
  • 4 potatoes peeled and diced
  • 3 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1 dried hot pepper or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef
  • 1 1/2 pounds lamb
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • Parsley, thyme, bay leaf

Place all the ingredients in a pot and stew over a low flame for about two hours until very tender.

Sally Lunn Bread

From Mrs. Esther Levy's Jewish Cookery Book and www.cooksrecipes.com. Dairy or Pareve

A favorite yeast bread that arrived in Philadelphia from England was Sally Lunn bread. It is still served at the City Tavern, where Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams congregated. It was traditionally served with clotted cream.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 cups flour
  1. Dissolve the yeast in warmed milk. Let stand for 5 minutes.
  2. Mix butter, sugar, salt, eggs, flour, and milk/yeast mixture.
  3. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
  4. Beat down and let rise again for 45 minutes.
  5. Spoon batter into a lightly greased and floured 9-inch pan.
  6. Bake at 350*F for 35 to 40 minutes.
Chamin – an early Sephardic dish. .

Chamin

Meat

From www.myjewishlearning.com and Sephardic Israeli Cuisine: A Mediterranean Mosaic.

The earliest Jewish food in Philadelphia was Sephardic. The Jews brought olive oil and almonds from the Mediterranean to Spain and Portugal. They introduced these ingredients to the cuisine of the New World. In Philadelphia, local fish was fried in olive oil, not lard. This became known as “Jew fish,” and was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Almonds were baked into a pudding. The Jewish Sabbath stew, Chamin, made with beef, beans, and onions was also introduced. To replicate a Colonial Sephardic Shabbat meal, one should cook Chamin.

  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 4 to 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 2 beef bones with marrow
  • 3 pounds brisket or chuck roast, cut into 4 pieces
  • 3 pounds small potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4 to 6 large eggs
  1. Preheat oven to 225 degrees F
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the chickpeas, bones, meat, potatoes, honey, paprika, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, turmeric, saffron, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Add enough water to cover, place the unshelled eggs in the center, and bring to a boil.
  3. Reduce the heat to medium low, and simmer for 1 hour. Skim off the foam occasionally.
  4. Cover the pot tightly, place in the oven, and cook overnight, or cook on low on the stove for 5 to 6 hours, or until meat is tender and done.
  5. In the morning, after cooking all night, check the water level. If there is too much water, turn the oven up to 250°F or 300°F, cover, and continue cooking. [If cooking over Shabbat, traditionally observant Jews would refrain from changing the heat level, for doing so would run counter to Sabbath laws against manipulating flame and cooking.] If there is no water, add another cup, cover, and continue cooking.
  6. To serve, place the chickpeas and cooking liquid in one bowl, and the eggs, potatoes, and meat in separate bowls.
Almond pudding.

Almond Pudding

Pareve

From the New York Times, “Food, Passover Hand-Me-Downs,” by Joan Nathan

One of the most authentic Portuguese Jewish foods is almond pudding. It is the perfect dessert to serve at the Shabbat dinner.

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 cup ground blanched almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
  • Oil for the pan
  • matza meal for the pan
  • 1 pint strawberries or 1 cup strawberry puree
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Beat the egg yolks until foamy. Add the sugar, almonds, and almond extract.
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff.
  4. Fold the egg whites into the yolk mixture.
  5. Pour into an 8-inch oven safe dish, which has been oiled and dusted with matza meal.
  6. Bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Allow to cool slightly.
  8. Top with strawberries or strawberry puree and serve.

Ronit Treatman was born in Israel and grew up in Ethiopia and Venezuela. She is fluent in five languages, and volunteered for the IDF where she served in the Liaison Unit to Foreign Forces. She currently lives in the Germantown section of Philadelphia with her husband and three children.

Is Your Jewish Family from Poland Originally From Spain?

— by Aaron Biterman

My family left northern Spain, likely around the time of expulsion in July of 1492. I am unsure what path they took to arrive in Poland, but oral tradition suggests that my Jewish family settled in the town of Hrubieszow in southeast Poland (near Lublin and Zamosc) by 1600. The surname they eventually adopted sounded much more Eastern European than Spanish. I talk more about the origins of the surname below. It’s possible my family was Ashkenazic and migrated west to Spain from another place, and then migrated back east after expulsion from Spain, but it seems more likely that they actually were Sephardic.

More after the jump.
Evidence that the family was Sephardic includes:

  • Dual Hebrew names (Yehuda Aryeh ben Yosef Tzvi) is a Sephardic practice. Ashkenazi tradition is “Yehuda ben Yosef.”
  • Concluding Shabbat davening with Ein Kelahaynu instead of Adan Olom is a Sephardic practice.
  • There may have been a synagogue in Hrubieszow before WWII which was Sephardic, where my ancestors prayed.
  • The family was religiously observant but not Hasidic even though the town they lived in (Hrubieszow) was a mostly Hasidic town.
  • There is an oral tradition of arrival in the area in Poland in the mid-1500s.

Jews had a very difficult time in Europe during the later portion of the Middle Ages. The beginnings of some of the behaviors of the Holocaust can be traced to the period in Europe from 1200 to 1500. Throughout Europe, the Jews were gradually confined in ghettos as the Middle Ages progressed. The first compulsory ones were established in Spain and Portugal at the end of the fourteenth century. Jewish ghettos existed in Madrid, Barcelona, Venice, Naples, Rome, Florence, Prague, and other European cities (Source: Jewish Displacement).

Beginning in the 8th century, Muslims had occupied and settled most of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain). Jews, who had lived in these regions since Roman times, were considered “People of the Book”‘ and given special status and often thrived under Muslim rule. The tolerance of the Muslim Moorish rulers attracted Jewish immigration, and Jewish enclaves in Muslim Iberian cities flourished as places of learning and commerce. Living conditions for Jews in al-Andalus became more difficult after the fall of the Muslim Umayyad Caliphate around the year 1030.

The Reconquista was the gradual reconquest of Islamic Iberia by the Catholic kingdoms with a powerful religious motivation: Iberia was being reclaimed for Christendom. By the 14th century, most of the Iberian Peninsula, present day Spain and Portugal, had been regained from the Moors. Overt hostility against Jews became more pronounced, finding expression in brutal episodes of violence and oppression. Thousands of Jews sought to escape these attacks by converting to Catholicism.

The Alhambra Decree (also known as the Edict of Expulsion) was an edict issued on March 31, 1492 by the joint Catholic Monarchs of Spain (Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon) ordering the expulsion of Jews from the Kingdom of Spain and its territories and possessions by July 31 of that year. The punishment for any Jew who did not convert or leave by the deadline was death. Scholars disagree about how many Jews left Spain as a result of the decree; the numbers vary between 130,000 and 800,000 (Source: Wikipedia).

Migration to Poland

Toward the end of the Middle Ages, Jews lived in 85 towns in Poland, totaling 18,000 — a mere .6 percent of the total population. But the 16th and the first half of the 17th century saw increased settlement and a relatively fast rate of natural population growth of Jews in Poland. Among the new arrivals there were not only the Ashkenazim banished from the countries belonging to the Hapsburg monarchy, but also Sephardim who were driven away from Spain and Portugal. Beginning in the middle of the 16th century, Jews started to settle in the countryside in larger numbers. During the hundred years of the 15th century, the Jewish Polish population exploded from about 15,000 to 150,000. In the middle of the 17th century there were 500,000 Jews living in Poland — five percent of the total population.

During the 15th and 16th centuries, Poland became the center for Jewish learning. Between 1501 and 1648, Jews intensified their economic activity. The primary sources of income for Jewish families were crafts and local trade. The rapid development of Jewish settlement and economic activity was accompanied by expansion of their self-government organization. As in the Middle Ages, every autonomous Jewish community was governed by its kahal — a collegiate body composed of elders elected as a rule from among the local wealthiest. The kahal organized funerals and administered cemeteries, schools, baths, slaughterhouses and the sale of kosher meat. In the closed “Jewish cities”, it also took care of cleanliness and order in the Jewish quarter and the security of its inhabitants. Administering charities such as the organization of hospitals and other welfare institutions and the dowering of poor brides were also taken on by citizens or organizations within these Jewish communities (Source: Mike Rosenzweig).

There was a period when members of the Sephardic middle class could establish themselves with some distinction in Poland. This most important page in the history of Sephardic Jews in Poland began with the reign of the Polish King Sigismund II Augustus (1529-1572). At that time, one of the most influential statesmen of the Ottoman Empire was Don Joseph Nasi, a Sephardic Jew who died in 1579 (Source: Alexander Beider).

In 1588, Polish Chancellor Jan Zamoyski established a special privilege allowing Sephardic Jews to live in his own newly founded private town of Zamosc. Many advantages were offered to those Sephardic Jews who decided to move there, which prompted a number of Sephardic families to migrate to the town. During the first part of the 17th century, new settlers generally came from Italy and Holland, according to Alexander Beider. Some of the Sephardic Jews left the area; others intermarried with Ashkenazic Jews. As a result, during the second half of the 17th century, Sephardic names do not appear in the historical documents of Zamosc and Lvov. The census of 1664 showed only 23 Jews in Zamosc, most Ashkenazic.

The presence of Sephardic families in the territory of Poland during the 16th to 18th centuries did not influence the surnames used by Polish Jews during the 19th and 20th centuries. The cultural fusion of foreign Sephardic Jews with local Ashkenazic Jews, who had lived in the same area for several centuries and were far more numerous, was rather rapid. The Sephardic Jews lost their language, and their descendants used Yiddish as the vernacular. They dropped their Sephardic names and were named according to local Ashkenazic patterns (Source: Alexander Beider).

Jews lived in Russia for centuries — sometimes welcomed and other times barely tolerated. Before 1500, Jews were permitted to live anywhere in Russia. As Russia’s western boundary moved west in the 1600s and 1700s, more Jews were annexed into a country which was intolerant of Jews. In the late 1700s, Catherine the Great decreed that Jews could only live in the territory along the western Russian border, known as the Pale of Settlement. In 1772, more Jews lived in the Pale than in the rest of Europe.

Prosperity continued until the second half of the 17th century, when a series of massacres by Cossacks ruthlessly killed Jews and Gentile Poles alike. Poland was then pummeled by another Cossack uprising, two invasions by Sweden, and a war with Turkey. In the 1700s, Poland was divided three ways, and the Jews of Poland fell under the rule of Russia, Germany, and Austria (Source: Jewish Displacement).

Surname Biterman

My family’s surname of Biterman could either have Eastern European or Sephardic origins. I talk more about it on my genetic genealogy page http://chelm.freeyellow.com/bi…

How Chamin (Ancient Sabbath Stew) Came To Philadelphia

— by Ronit Treatman

Please enjoy this clip I filmed about how chamin (Portuguese cholent) came to Philadelphia.  It was filmed at Stenton Mansion, one of the best-preserved colonial homes in Philadelphia.  I would like to extend my special thanks to Marlene Samoun for permitting me to use her soulful rendition of the ladino folk song Morenika in this clip.

Jewish contact with Spain may go as far back as the Kingdom of Solomon.  It is thought that Southern Spain was the country of Tarshish.  Tarshish was the furthest place west that people could sail to from Ancient Israel in Biblical times.  There was a continuous Jewish presence in Spain until March 31, 1492.  

Recipes and more after the jump.

This was when the Alhambra Decree was issued, ordering the expulsion of the Jews from the Kingdom of Spain.  The majority of these exiles moved to Portugal, but they were expelled from Portugal in 1498.  As a result, the Spanish Jewish community was dispersed.  A large number of these Jews navigated the 8.9 miles across the Straits of Gibraltar and resettled in the Maghreb (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya).  A much smaller number ventured to America.  


They brought a very ancient dish with them.  Its oldest name is chamin, which comes from the Hebrew word “cham” which means “hot.”  Chamin is a dish that evolved so that Jews could comply with the rule of not kindling a flame on the Sabbath.  In the Mishnah it says “tomnim et ha’chamim.”  This oral tradition instructed Jewish people to “bury the hot.”  In the countries of the Maghreb, the Arabic word for “buried” or “dafina” was adopted for this dish.  No matter where they resettled, these Spanish and Portuguese exiles continued to cook the same special festive Sabbath dish.  The Jews who settled in Eastern Europe continued this tradition under a different name.  Their special Sabbath dish is called cholent.  This name is believed to derive from the Hebrew word “she’lan” which means “rested overnight.”  Several famous European dishes derive from chamin such as the French cassoulet, and the Spanish cocido madrileño.

As the days grow colder, chamin is the perfect comfort food to prepare for Shabbat.  I have a very special recipe to share with you.  My daughter, who is spending a trimester in Israel, enjoyed home hospitality with the Ben Moshe family.  Mrs. Yasmin Ben Moshe welcomed her Shabbat guests with her special Tunisian chamin.  She has generously agreed to share her recipe with us. This recipe has been passed down orally in the Ben Moshe family for generations.  Enjoy!


Mrs. Yasmin Ben Moshe’s Tunisian Chamin

  • 2 1/2 cups wheat berries
  • 2 pounds of cubed lamb
  • 6 potatoes
  • 6 hard-boiled eggs, in their shells
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste

Soak the wheat berries in water for one hour.  In a large pot, mix 2 tablespoons of olive oil with ¼ tablespoon of sugar.  Cook over high heat until the sugar caramelizes.  Add 2 1/2 cups of water, 2 teaspoons of paprika, and 2 teaspoons of cumin.  Bring to a boil, then add the wheat berries, and salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer until all of the liquid has been absorbed.  Add the cubed lamb and cover with water.  Add the eggs and potatoes.  Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 1/2 hour.  Set aside and prepare the dumplings and sausage.

Kouclas (Dumplings)

  • 1 cup cubed lamb fat
  • 1 cup ground bulgur wheat
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1 egg

In a pan, heat the olive oil, and then add the lamb fat.  When it is hot, add the garlic, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper, stirring well.  Stir in the cup of ground bulgur wheat.  Remove from heat.  Mix in the minced parsley and egg.  Blend everything together until it becomes a dough.  Form the dough into little round dumplings and place in the Chamin pot.


Machshi  (Sausage)

  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup minced parsley
  • 1/4 cup minced cilantro
  • 1/4 cup minced dill
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • Vegetable casing or cotton straining cloth (cheesecloth)
  • Cotton twine

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.  Form a loaf with the mixture, and stuff it into the vegetable casing, or wrap it in the cheesecloth.  Tie both ends with twine.  Place in the chamin pot.  Make sure that all the ingredients are covered with water.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cover the chamin pot tightly and place in the oven overnight.  It should cook for 24 hours.

Serve the eggs and potatoes first.  Spoon plenty of gravy over them.  Offer salt, cumin, and cayenne pepper so each diner can spice it to taste.

Then serve the wheat berries, lamb, dumplings (kouclas), and sliced sausage (machshi).

As you experience your first taste of this chamin you will understand the wisdom of the old Ladino proverb:

Cuanto mas tienes, mas quieres.

The more you have, the more you want.

Symbolic Sephardic Foods For Rosh Hashanah

— by Ronit Treatman

The Sephardic communtiy has a unique mystical tradition for Rosh Hashanah.  Symbolic foods are served at a Rosh Hashanah Seder.  Some of these foods are also puns, and are called “simanim,” or “signs.”  Special blessings starting Yehi ratzone, Hebrew for “May it be God’s will,” are chanted over these dishes.  Here are some of them, and the traditions associated with them.

Pomegranate

Pomegranates are said to have 613 seeds, the same number as mitzvot in the Torah.  On Rosh Hashanah we eat a fresh pomegranate preceded by the blessing:

“Yehi Ratzon Mil’fa’necha, Adonai Eloheinu She nirbeh zechuyot ke rimon.”
“May if be your will Adonai our God That our merits increase like the seeds of a pomegranate.”

Recipes and more blessings after the jump.
Black-Eyed Peas And Fenugreek

Black-eyed peas are called “ruvia” in Aramaic.  “Ruvia” is like the Hebrew word “rov” which means most or many.  Fenugreek is also referred to as “ruvia” which may connote “irbu” or “will increase.” The blessing before eating it is:

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu Sheh’yirbu ze’chu-yo-taynu.”
“May it be your will Eternal God that our merits increase.”


Black-eyed peas and fenugreek are stewed with veal.  This dish is called Lubiya.   Here is a recipe adapted from Gilda Angel’s Sephardic Holiday Cooking.

  • 1/2 lb. cubed veal
  • 1 can black-eyed peas
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tbsp. tomato paste
  • olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. dried fenugreek leaves

Cut up the onion and garlic.  Saute them in 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Add the veal cubes.  When the veal has browned add all the other ingredients.  Bring to a boil, and then lower the heat.  Let the casserole simmer for at least one hour.  Serve hot.

No Nuts!

The word for “nut” in Hebrew is “egoz.”  Its gematria or numerical value is “chet” which means “transgression.”  In order to avoid transgressions during the new year, even foods that carry the suggestion of a transgression are avoided.

Fish Or No Fish!

The word for “fish” in Hebrew is “dag.”  It sounds a lot like “daagah,” which means “worry.”  There are people who avoid eating fish on Rosh Hashanah in order to avoid a year full of worries.  Other sephardic communities do have the tradition of eating fish as a symbol of fertility for the new year.  The yehi ratzon blessing for fish is:

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu She nifre ve nirbe ke dagim.”
“May it be your will Eternal God That we be fruitful and multiply like fish.”

It is traditional to serve chraime for this course.  Chraime is a fish and vegetable casserole.  I found this recipe on Wikia.

  • 2 Lbs. flounder
  • 2 large potatoes
  • 3 large tomatoes
  • 2 red peppers
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 1 cup minced cilantro
  • 1 tbsp. ground paprika
  • salt
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup of water

Cut up all the vegetables and place in a pot.  Lay the fish on top of the vegetables.  Sprinkle with salt and paprika to taste.  Drizzle with olive oil.  Add the water.  Cover the pot tightly and bring to a boil.  Allow to simmer for 30 minutes.  May be served at any temperature.

Sugar For Dipping The Bread

Some Sephardic families avoid consuming honey during Rosh Hashanah.  In Ancient Israel, honey would render the incense used in the Temple impure if it was added to it.

For a pure and sweet Rosh Hashanah, they dip their bread in sugar.

Moroccan Couscous With Seven Vegetables

It is customary to wish for a year with as many blessings as there are grains of couscous in a bowl.  Seven appears many times in the Torah.  It epitomizes blessings, good luck, and Creation.  Here is a recipe adapted from Christine Benlafquih.

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cups of water
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 lb. couscous
  • 2 red onions, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 4 carrots, diced
  • 2 zucchini, diced
  • 2 cups of pumpkin, diced
  • 2 cups of cabbage, chopped up
  • 4 stalks of celery, diced
  • 1 cup cilantro, minced
  • Ground ginger
  • Ground turmeric
  • Ground cumin
  • Ground coriander
  • salt
  • pepper

In a heavy pot, heat the olive oil over a medium flame.  Add the onions.  Cook the onions until they are translucent.  Add the turmeric, ginger, cumin, and coriander.  Stir well.  Add the tomatoes, celery, carrots, cabbage, zucchini, and pumpkin.  Drain the chickpeas, and add.  Pour in the water, and bring to a boil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Lower the heat, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.

Mix the dry couscous with 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a bowl.  Pour 2 cups of boiling water into the bowl.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap.  Allow the couscous to steam for 15 minutes.

To serve:

Fluff the couscous with a fork.  Spoon it into a bowl.  Place some of the vegetable mixture with sauce over the couscous.  Sprinkle some minced cilantro on it.

Candied Quince

Quinces are native to the Caucasus.  They are from the same family as apples and pears.  Moroccan Jews have the custom of reciting the shehechiyanu and “Yehi Ratzon” blessings over a candied quince.  Here is a recipe for making your own candied quince.  I adapted it from Simply Quince by Barbara Ghazarian.

  • 1 fresh quince
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups water

Core and peel the quince.  Cut it into thin slices.  Pour the water and sugar into a heavy pot.  Cook over medium heat while stirring until the sugar completely dissolves into the water.  Add the quince and simmer for 45 minutes.  The quince slices will be soft and have a rich golden red color.

Squash or Gourd

Squash or gourd is called “qara” in Aramaic and Hebrew.  “Qara” has two meanings.  It can mean “to read, or to call out.”  It can also mean “to rip or tear up.”    The following prayer is recited over the gourd:

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu she yeekorah g’zar dee’neinu ve yeekaroo lefahnecha zechuyoteinu.”
“May it be your will Adonai our God that our harsh decrees are torn up and our merits are proclaimed before You.”

Spaghetti squash and pumpkin are thought to be “qara.”  Here is a traditional Rosh Hashanah recipe for Tirshi (Pumpkin Salad) adapted from Copeland Marks’ book, Sephardic Cooking.

  • 1 cup pureed pumpkin
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 lemon
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tblsp. olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground paprika

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl.  Check the seasoning.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Round Flatbreads

Saying the blessing over a challah is a tradition acquired in Germany, which spread to all of the Eastern European Jewish communities.  In the Sephardic tradition, the blessing over the bread is chanted over flatbreads.  The round shape of the flatbread connotes the same symbols as the round shape of the Rosh Hashanah challah.  It symbolizes the never-ending circle of life and the yearly cycle.  It helps us express our wish for a good year, which will bring blessings, peace, prosperity, and sweetness.  Twelve flatbreads are baked and arranged in the same pattern as the showbread used in the Temple.  The two flatbreads on the top are held together for the blessing.

“Baruch ata Adonai Eloeinu melech haolam Ha motzi lechem min haaretz.”

“Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, Who brings forth bread from the earth.”

Here is a recipe for Homemade Pita Bread adapted from Saad Fayed.

  • 3 cups of unbleached flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (105 degress Fahrenheit)

Mix the warm water, sugar, and yeast in a bowl.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, and let stand for 15 minutes.  Add the flour and salt.  Mix everything together.  Sprinkle some flour on your kitchen counter, and turn the dough out onto it.  Knead the dough with your hands for about 15 minutes.  Oil a bowl with olive oil.  Place the dough in bowl, turning it over to coat it with oil on all sides.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel.  Let it rest in a warm place, away from drafts for 3 hours.

Preheat your oven and cookie sheet to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Take out the dough and roll it into a thick rope.  Slice it into 10 pieces.  Roll each piece into a ball, and then flatten it with a rolling pin.

To bake, place each disc of dough on the hot cookie sheet.  Let it sit in the oven for 4 minutes.  Flip it over and let it bake for another 2 minutes.  When you remove it, the pita bread will be puffed up.

Keftes De Prasa or Leek Fritters

Leeks are called “karsi” in Aramaic, which is related to the Hebrew “karet” which means “sever, destroy, or cut off.”  They are accompanied by a prayer to God to cut off our enemies.  The traditional way to serve leeks is to prepare leek fritters.

Adapted from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck.

  • 1 Lb. leeks
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup of olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. unbleached flour
  • salt
  • black pepper or chili pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon

Slice the leeks and saute them in olive oil.  Set aside to cool.

Mix the all the remaining ingredients except the olive oil in a bowl.  Incorporate the leeks into the mixture.

Heat the rest of the olive oil in a heavy pan over a medium flame.  Spoon the leek batter into the hot oil.  Turn the fritters over.  They are ready when they are a golden-brown color.

The blessing we say over the leek fritters is:

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu she yeekartu soneinu.”
“May it be your will Adonai Our God that our enemies will be cut off.”


Dates

Dates are called “tamri” in Aramaic.  “Tamri” means “to finish.”  The blessing over dates experesses the hope that our enemies will end their enmity.

Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu she yitamu oyevenu.”
“May it be your will Eternal God that our enemies will be finished.”

Fresh dates from Israel, unadorned, are delicious with this blessing.  Some families have the tradition of dipping their dates in a mixture of anise seeds, sesame seeds, and powdered sugar.

Roasted Beet Salad

The Aramaic for beets is “silka” which sounds like the Hebrew word “siluk.”  “Siluk” means removal.  We pray that our enemies will be removed.

“Yehi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloeinu she istalku oyevenu.”

“May it be your will Eternal God that our enemies will be removed.”

Here is a recipe inspired by Joan Nathan.

Brush beets with olive oil.  Wrap them in aluminum foil.  Place them in a 400 degree oven for one hour.  Remove and peel the beets.  Dice them.  Place the diced beets in a bowl and mix in:

  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped onion
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 2 lemons, squeezed
  • 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

Chill for one hour before serving.

Apples

The traditional way to serve apples in the Sephardic Rosh Hashanah table is called mansanada.  Mansanada is a type of apple compote.

This recipe is adapted from Midrash Ben Ish Hai.

  • 1 tsp. ground cloves or cardamom
  • 2 1/2 tbsp. granulated refined sugar
  • 6 apples which are good for cooking such as Stayman, York Imperial, Rome Beauty, Rhode Island Greening, Lady, Jonathan, and Gravenstein
  • 1/2 cup water

Core and quarter the apples.  Peel and slice them.  Arrange the slices in a pot.  Sprinkle the sugar and ground cloves or cardamom over them.  Pour the water into the pot.  Bring to a boil, and then simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove the apple slices with a slotted spoon.  Allow the liquid to continue cooking until it is transformed into a syrup.  Pour the sauce over the apples.

The yehi ratzon blessing over the apple is:

“Yehi Ratzon Mil’fa’necha, Adonai Eloheinu She techadesh aleinu shana tova u’metuka.”
“May if be your will Adonai our God to renew us for a good and sweet year.”

Head Of A Ram, Fish, Or Rooster

It is a very ancient tradition to bake and present at the table the head of a ram.  This is done to symbolize a desire for the Rosh Hashanah celebrants to be leaders, not followers.  This symbol helps us remember that God allowed Abraham to replace his son Isaac with a sheep when making his sacrifice as commanded.  The head of a fish or rooster symbolized this hope in some of the Sephardic communities.  The blessing is:

“Yehi Ratzon Mil’fa’necha, Adonai Eloheinu She niyeh ke rosh velo ke zanav.”

“May if be your will Adonai our God That we will be the head and not the tail.”

I like to serve a whole, smoked fish, like a mackerel.  It is very elegant with its beautiful golden color.

As there are protective amulets, so there are protective foods.  Long standing traditions dictate that the new year must be welcomed with the proper foods and blessings to merit life, sustenance, and the opportunity to perform mitzvot.  Yehi ratzon!  Shana tova.  

For more hands-on Rosh Hashanah ideas please visit my new blog.